Kenyan government triggers nightmare scenario for bookmakers

A frantic 24 hours has seen Kenyan betting’s regulatory dispute intensify, as local news sources report that the government has demanded that national telecom operators instruct their users to withdraw all funds from their betting accounts.

The strict order has been sanctioned by Liti Wambua, the acting director of the Kenyan Betting Control & Licensing Board (BCLB), who is reported to have given Kenyan telecom operators ’48 hours to clear all betting accounts’.

BCLB’s latest actions, follow its decision to suspend 27 licensed bookmakers last week, with the regulatory body detailing that it will not stop its strong-arm tactics until the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) recovers billions in ‘contested’ industry taxes.

Firms whose licenses have not been renewed, include SportPesa, Betin, Betway, Betpawa, Premierebet, Lucky 2 U, 1XBet, Dafa Bet, Atari Gaming, PalmsBet, Betboss and Mozzartbet.

Enforcing its strictest of mandates, the BCLB has demanded that Kenyan telecom operators shut down mobile wallet and shortcode payment provisions, terminating all engagements between bookmakers and their customers.

Reacting to the demand, Safaricom Kenya’s leading mobile and telecom operator has urged the government to rethink its position, as the BCLB’s mandate will impact a reported 12 million customers.

Leading Kenyan bookmakers, SportPesa, Betin, betPawa have branded BCLB’s telecoms enforcement as illegal, launching Nairobi counterclaims against the regulatory body, stating that the government cannot sanction any payment demands whilst its orders are being protested.

At the heart of the dispute, SportPesa governance maintains its position that it will not pay KRA’s  KSH $3 billion (€27 million) tax charge, detailing that a Nairobi High Court judgement had allowed the bookmaker to exclude player taxes following a consumer dispute.

In further updates, Kenyan news sources report that Wambua has further instructed national banks to freeze all corporate accounts, fearing an economic flight by betting operators.

However, closing Tuesday, Kenyan news reports detailed that Fred Matiang’I, Kenya’s Minister of the Interior had been forced to sanction deportation orders on foreign-born bookmaker executives, who have been charged with violating their Kenyan visa work permits.

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